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Defying racist legislation: New bill seeks to turn Israel into a true democracy

In the face of an onslaught of nationalist, anti-Arab laws, one lawmaker is proposing a simple alternative: transforming Israel into a state for all its citizens.

A few years ago, my colleague Noam Sheizaf conducted a fascinating interview with the executive director of Adalah, Hassan Jabareen, in which the former raised the idea that the rise of nationalist and anti-democratic legislation was actually a response to the Palestinian-Israeli public taking its citizenship more seriously — both its rights and the obligations that that citizenship entails. Considering the conduct of the government, as well as that of the Arab public in Israel over the past decade, it seems there is some truth to Sheizaf’s suggestion.

More than 10 years ago, between 2006 and 2007, Arab civil society organizations challenged the country’s Jewish majority by proposing a series of documents titled “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel.” The documents did not merely demand formal recognition of rights for the Arab minority, but proposed the wholesale transformation of Israel from a nationalist ethnocracy into a democracy based on equal rights. These documents not only failed to stimulate the kind of public debate that was hoped for; over the last decade, they have been answered with a wave of discriminatory and racist legislation, including the Nakba Law, the Family Unification Law, and, perhaps most significantly, the Nation-State Law.

In light of the Nation-State Law, which is meant to formalize the status of Arabs as second-class citizens, Knesset Member Yousef Jabareen (Hadash, the Joint List) has proposed a new Basic Kaw in response: Israel, a Democratic, Egalitarian, and Multi-cultural State.

The parallels to the Nation-State Law are intentional: for every discriminatory clause, Jabareen, who has a PhD in law, has proposed democratic alternatives based on equal citizenship for Arabs and Jews. Whereas the goal of the Nation-State Law, according to the proposed bill, is “to defend the status of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, so as to define Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the principles in Israel’s declaration of independence,” the goal of Jabareen’s bill is “to define Israel as a democratic and multi-cultural state that guarantees complete civil, cultural, and national equality to all of its citizens.”

“Over the past several months discussion of the Nation-State Law, of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, has increased,” Jabareen said, explaining...

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Campaign for refugees a rare reminder of our collective morality

The campaign to stop the deportation of the asylum seekers is an encouraging reminder that Israeli society’s collective conscience has not yet totally disappeared. 

It is impossible not to gaze in astonishment at the Israeli public’s overwhelming mobilization for asylum seekers under threat of deportation. From educators to academics, from pilots who say they will refuse to fly asylum seekers against their will to residents of south Tel Aviv who oppose the deportation, it seems that not a single sector of Israeli society has refrained from expressing its contempt for the move.

The campaign is also understandably human, and there are a few explanations for why we have been seeing such a touching outpouring of support. Firstly, there is a real threat to asylum seekers’ lives, should they be sent back to Africa. Moreover, the shadow of Jewish history looms large over the public discourse on refugees and deportations. There is the fact that African asylum seekers — as opposed to Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, for instance — are physically present in our daily lives, and not virtual figures on the news. And demographically speaking, the asylum seekers are relatively few, and thus their plight can be contextualized as a humanitarian, rather than a political issue that could potentially pose a threat to the idea of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state.

Beyond those explanations, however, lies a deeper reason for this unprecedented campaign, which has seemingly awakened the collective Israeli conscience from its coma. For many years now, the Israeli public has looked at itself in the mirror and been frightened by its reflection. From testimonies by Breaking the Silence to the reports of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and the demolition of homes and schools in the West Bank, we see a violent, vengeful, and belligerent society in our reflection. For years we learned to use all kinds of different mechanisms to try and live with this horrifying image. We have tried to frame the conversation about the occupation as a security issue rather than a political one. We have victimized ourselves. And worst of all, we have attempted to shatter this mirror whenever it threatens the protected spaces we built for ourselves, by persecuting and delegitimizing human rights organizations or closing off Gaza to journalists.

But our reflection isn’t going anywhere. We can continue to call Ahed Tamimi a “terrorist” until the end...

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Demolishing Palestinian schools 'a quiet population transfer'

By destroying schools in Palestinian villages in Area C and elsewhere, Israel is forcing Palestinians to make a cruel choice — between their land and their children’s futures.

When the children of Beit Ta’mar, a village south-east of Bethlehem, left their improvised schoolhouse for winter vacation about two weeks ago, they did not know if the building would still be standing when they came back.

To call the building a school is to exaggerate. It is comprised of five concrete rooms on the top of a hill, constructed by the village’s residents, who also built the road to the school.

“Last August, we asked the army for permission to build a school for the children in the village,” Hassan Brigiah says on our way to the site. “We didn’t receive an answer, and after we talked with a lawyer, we decided to set up six caravans to serve as classrooms. The army came and dismantled the caravans. While they were doing this I said to them, ‘but you didn’t give us an answer at all!’ It didn’t help. We decided to build a few classrooms out of concrete, and in the meantime, a lawyer managed to get an order to prevent them from being demolished until the government gives us an answer.”

The army has since provided an answer—negative, as expected. The reasons, as always, are technical and bureaucratic. Ever since, the threat of demolition has hung over the improvised first through third-grade classrooms. The Palestinian Authority provided tables and chairs, which is noted on a plaque. “We’ll build the homeland with the power of knowledge,” is spray painted on one of the walls.

The school is located in Area C, but close to Area B, in the West Bank, under Palestinian civil control, and entirely on privately owned land, Birgiah says, adding that the construction was financed by the villagers themselves.

“We are very close to Tekoa and Noqdim, where [Defense Minister] Liberman lives,” Birgiah adds. “They have a lot of influence on the government. Nearly every day, the settlers stand on the hill overlooking the school and survey our children with binoculars. The army is also here all the time, walking around, taking pictures, and leaving. They want to show us that they’re here, so that we’ll continue to live in fear.”

In general, the sense is that schools and educational institutions have become a hot target for the...

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Home demolitions in the Negev and Tel Aviv show the real face of government corruption

Corruption does not begin with Netanyahu’s cigars or pink champagne. It begins with an ideological system that sees entire segments of the population as undesirable and unnecessary, and as temporary residents in their own homes.

Last night, a striking episode in Amnon Levy’s documentary series, “The Real Faces,” aired on TV. The episode followed the residents of the Tel Kabir, Givat Amal, and HaArgazim neighborhoods, whom the government has designated as trespassers in their own homes. The government is now trying to evict them, to the benefit of real estate tycoons.

Yesterday, a court in Be’er Sheva convicted Sheikh Siakh A-Turi, 68, of trespassing, sentencing him to ten months in prison with a fine of 36,000 shekels. Sheikh Siakh, is a resident of the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib.

The residents of Givat Amal and Al-Araqib share the same tragic fate: they are among the most marginalized people in a country whose government has declared them trespassers on land on which they have lived for decades. In both instances, the government prevented them from formalizing their property ownership by a range of deceptive means. The government, in contrast, moved quickly to formalize and recognize the ownership of those citizens whom it actually values, in some cases spitting distance from where these “trespassers” live.

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To truly believe these stories, you must hear them again and again. The Mizrahi residents of these Tel Aviv neighborhoods could not formalize their ownership of the land on which they have lived for 70 years because they “missed” a small announcement in the Davar newspaper in 1951, inviting “any person who de facto owns, without a deed, an apartment or business on absentee property” to submit a request to formalize their ownership. Like their Ashkenazi neighbors—Mapai supporters and employees of the Tel Aviv municipality and the Custodian for Absentee Property—they, too, settled on property that belonged to Palestinians before 1948.

However, unlike their Ashkenazi neighbors, the Mizrahi residents had no way of hearing about an announcement published once in the Mapai party newspaper, and which allowed for a short window of two weeks to formalize property ownership. Those who read the announcement got recognized...

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In Jabal al-Baba, the trees are protected but the people aren't

The Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba faces expulsion from their homes. The army eviction order says nothing about where they are supposed to go.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel generated among many Israelis and Palestinians the fear that something terrible—a kind of political earthquake that could devastate the region—might come in response. Residents of Jerusalem know this quiet fear all too well. The wary looks on the light-rail, the absurd number of police in the streets, the increased security at every bus station. A city in eternal preparation for disaster, in which the terror ignited by faraway pyromaniacs has turned its daily routine into a hell of suspicion and fear.

The truth is that while we wait uneasily for the next great catastrophe, it is already unfolding all around us, and on a daily basis. Not far from the boundaries of the “undivided” capital, Palestinian communities in Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the West Bank, are threatened with eviction and demolition—part of Israel’s policy of demographic engineering in the area to preserve its “Jewish and democratic” character.

Entire communities, from Susya in the South Hebron Hills to Khan al-Amer near Ma’ale Adumim, are threatened with expulsion. The fact that the transfer of a native population in occupied territory is a war crime has not stopped Israel from pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing in the area. War crimes don’t phase us anymore. When the Israeli army isn’t actively expelling Palestinian communities, it stands on the sidelines and gives settlers carte blanche to abuse and terrorize Palestinians shepherds.

The hope, perhaps, is that the Palestinians will eventually grow frustrated and acquiesce to leaving the territory voluntarily. Israel does not want Palestinians in Area C; it does not hesitate to use whatever means necessary to make that clear to them.

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Now, it is the Bedouin community of Jaba al-Baba’s turn. Like many other communities belonging to the Jahalin tribe, they were also uprooted from the area of Tel Arad, an area of the Negev close to the West Bank. They then leased land from Palestinian landowners in the area...

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There is no such thing as a 'good soldier' at a checkpoint

Those who believe it is possible to maintain an occupation without violence are wrong. The case of Ahed Tamimi illustrates why.

By Orly Noy

Israelis often claim that a soldier with the right moral education can operate a checkpoint without violating anyone’s rights. Many in Israeli media have made this claim with regard to the two soldiers filmed facing down Ahed Tamimi, the 16-year-old under arrest for shoving and kicking soldiers off the porch of her family’s home last week: that the soldiers demonstrated the good moral education they received, in the army or at home or both, by refraining from responding to Ahed Tamimi with violence.

I assume that there is some truth to these claims, especially in the reality of the occupied territories, where, in the eyes of the army, Palestinian lives are cheap. The fact that the two soldiers did not respond by beating Ahed Tamimi is indeed surprising in a reality in which soldiers shot and killed a wheelchair-bound protester in Gaza, and in which soldiers break into houses and arrest children in their beds in the West Bank. Without a doubt, it says something about those two soldiers. But it says something much bigger about this reality.

The case of Ahed Tamimi does away with the illusion of “the good soldier” at the checkpoint. It is possible that these soldiers acted the way they did because they feared being caught on camera, but it also very possible that these two soldiers came from good homes and believed in their hearts that they were “the good soldiers” at the checkpoint — the soldiers who act with humanity, who don’t beat, abuse, scream, or curse. It is absolutely possible that their morality is what prevented them from beating the girls who refused to accept the soldiers’ presence in their home.

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Nonetheless, with all the morality and humanity they demonstrated, they were still two soldiers who broke into the house of a family that has been attacked for years by the army whose uniform they wear — and in an occupied territory where Palestinians barely have the right to breathe without an official permit. The two young men may have had...

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'It took them 10 minutes to destroy what I built in a lifetime'

Ever since the Rajbi family home was demolished by Israeli authorities two weeks ago, the children have been staying with relatives, while the father sleeps in a tin hut next to the rubble. This is what it looks like when Israel turns its Palestinians into criminals against their own will.

The path to the Rajbi family home in East Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, or what was their home until two weeks ago, is difficult to find, even with the help of navigation apps such as Waze. After driving off the main road, the half-paved alleyways blend into one another in a maze of dirt tracks. Three of them bear the exact same name. After a few attempts to find the house, Samir, brother of Issam Rajbi whose former home we are looking for, comes to our rescue. In East Jerusalem, this is not an especially effective milestone; the dirt mounds and remains of demolished homes are pile up on the way, every few hundred meters.

According to the Israeli organization Ir Amim, which tracks the goings on in East Jerusalem, there has been an increase in home demolitions in East Jerusalem since mid-2015. 2016 saw a record high of 123 housing units demolished. Since the beginning of 2017, 96 residential units and 59 other structures have been destroyed. For the sake of comparison, the yearly average preceding 2016 hovered at around 50 per year.

Around two weeks ago, on November 22, it was the Rajbi family’s turn. The family is comprised of a mother, a father, and eight children between the ages of 6 and 21. Like many of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians, the Rajbis are trapped by a lack of planning, preventing them any opportunity to legally build their home on their own land. This turns them into criminals against their own will.

“I have been submitting requests to delay the demolition since 2010,” says Issam. “The demolition order applied to the 30 meters around the house. I told them several times that I would demolish those 30 meters by myself. They told me ‘don’t do anything.’ Last Wednesday they came unannounced and began demolishing. I told their work manager that the order only applied to the 30 meters. He responded, ‘don’t even talk to me, I know what to do,’ and destroyed the entire house.”

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Fifty faces of occupation

A new exhibit by B’Tselem marks 50 years of occupation with portraits of 50 Palestinians born in the occupied territories, who have never known a day of freedom in their lives.

There is a checkpoint next to my house. It determines my life’s routine. It is a source of constant worry: whenever my children are on their way home from school or to another place, I’m worried. I want to travel, to sit on the beach, to visit Al Aqsa and my family in Jerusalem. But because of the checkpoints, I can’t. Sometimes it takes hours to cross the checkpoint. I just sit and lean against the grates. — Kharbiyeh Marwani, Hebron.

Last Friday, B’Tselem opened a photo exhibit at the Jaffa Art Salon to mark the 50th year of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More than 40 photographers, men and women, took portraits of 50 Palestinians, residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

The subjects of the portraits come from different backgrounds and walks of life: from cities and villages, from refugee camps and communities under threat of expulsion, affluent and poor. But they all have one thing in common: they have never known a day of freedom in their lives.

Since its establishment 28 years ago, B’Tselem has documented human rights abuses in the occupied territories and attempted to raise the Israeli public’s awareness of these abuses. Contrary to the claims that the Right likes to make against human rights organizations, B’Tselem’s target audience is, and always has been, the Israeli public — which has not only a right but an obligation to know what happens in its name. At a time when Israelis are increasingly indifferent to anything having to do with the occupation, this exhibit attempts to bring the faces of Palestinians living under military rule to the Israeli street.

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I was thrown in jail when I was 23. I was released 22 years later, when I was 45. While I was imprisoned, my children grew up and got married. When I think about freedom, I think about the time I spent behind bars. — Zuheir A-Shashineh, Al Burg refugee camp, Gaza.

It is...

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How Arabic became a threat to 'social cohesion' in Israel

The absurd arrest of a Palestinian worker who was mistranslated by the police is a reminder that Arabic has been turned into a tool to oppress the native population in this country.

Israelis read Sunday morning that Israeli police had mistakenly arrested a Palestinian worker after relying on a Facebook translation of a post he had written a week earlier. The worker had uploaded a photo of himself standing next to a bulldozer with the caption, “good morning,” which the police then misinterpreted to say, “attack them,” leading to his arrest for incitement to violence.

The incident exemplifies something about the Israeli complex vis-a-vis the Arabic language. One may wonder how the hell it is possible that a language used by nearly half the people living in this land, which is spoken by millions across the region, has become so esoteric and exotic to us to the point that we must resort to Facebook’s poor translation software in order to understand it. Beyond that, one can see how the incident is the result of the state’s attempt to empty Arabic of its power to connect people — as a language that contains its own history, culture, and memory — and turn it into something entirely different.

In order to understand this process, we only need to remember a law that was recently proposed by members of the Israeli government to annul the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel. The law, it was said, would “promote social cohesion in the State of Israel and build a collective identity needed for building mutual trust and maintaining the principles of democracy.”

The “social cohesion” mentioned by the MKs who wrote the law begins with stripping away the language from 20 percent of Israel’s population (and millions more living under its direct and indirect rule), and turning it into an obstacle of sorts. Arabic, it turns out, is standing in the way of our social cohesion.

But the truly interesting thing is that those who proposed the law are not trying to make Arabic disappear: they just want to strip it of its essence and turn it into something else. When Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman takes pride in being the only one who “really understands Arabic,” he treats the language as a simple matter of power and control. Arabic becomes a fist or a whip. When Culture Minister Miri Regev attacks MK Haneen Zoabi on the Knesset...

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Settler violence on the rise as olive harvest begins in West Bank

Since the beginning of the olive harvest two weeks ago, Israeli human rights organizations have documented 10 cases of settler violence and theft against Palestinians and their property. For now, it seems like the police are doing their job.

The olive harvest season, which began two weeks ago across Israel-Palestine, is one of the most heated seasons in the year for Palestinians in the occupied territories, especially for those living in Area C, under complete Israeli military control.

Nearly every plot of Palestinian land designated for farming in the West Bank is located in this area, yet 60 percent of that very land now belongs to settlement local and regional councils. Israel’s multifarious practices of dispossession, from land expropriations to declaring whole swaths of private property closed military zones, have restricted Palestinian access to their agricultural land. In many places, they are allowed access only during seasons when they plow the land, or during the olive harvest. The success of the harvest has a direct effect on their livelihood. Often times, land that has been abandoned by Palestinians due to settler violence is later taken over by those very same settlers.

Every year at this time, like clockwork, Israeli settlers head out to Palestinian olive groves to sow destruction and violence. Since 2005, Israeli anti-occupation NGO Yesh Din has documented around 280 police cases relating to attacks on olive trees. According to the organization, only six of those cases ended in indictments. Over 93 percent of them were closed due to police failure to find the criminals or to gather the proper evidence to put the suspects on trial. Often times, the army simply “takes care” of conflagrations between settlers and Palestinians by preventing the Palestinians from accessing their agricultural land, a practice that has been roundly criticized by Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Thus, reports over the past few weeks of cases in which Israeli security forces actually caught settlers as they were harassing Palestinian farmers are surprising in just how out of the ordinary they are. Under normal circumstances, a news report on police catching criminals in the act as they attack innocent people would be a case of dog bites man. In the reality of occupation, this is clearly a case of man bites dog.

Last Sunday, for instance, settlers were caught stealing olives from a Palestinian grove adjacent the village of Al-Jinya, not far from the settlement outpost of Zait Ra’anan....

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How can women 'wage peace' without talking about occupation?

A recent rally organized by ‘Women Wage Peace’ may have looked momentous, yet it ignored 50 years of military occupation, all while recycling the same old tropes about the role of women in violent conflicts.

I arrived early and with many reservations to the rally organized by “Women Wage Peace” in Jerusalem’s Independence Park this past week. It was the culmination of a two-week “Journey to Peace,” in which thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women marched through Israel and the West Bank to demand a peaceful resolution to the conflict. I had been following the group since it was formed after the 2014 Gaza war. On the one hand, a mass movement of women in support of peace is a welcome change. On the other hand, what are they actually saying? And even more importantly: what are they not saying? How can it be that the word occupation is entirely absent from a group that aims to end the conflict?

I came early, deciding to sit in a cafe along the route of the march. After a few minutes, two women dressed in white and speaking in Arabic sat next to me. I asked if they were part of the march; they said yes. After a brief conversation, I asked one of the women, a Palestinian-Israeli from Jaffa, if she isn’t bothered that Women Wage Peace never even hints at the word “occupation.”

“This was the decision that was made,” she responded evasively. When I asked once more whether or not it bothers her, she said, “of course it bothers me. It bothers me as a woman, as a Palestinian, as an Israeli, but this is what they decided. That we must speak about the future, we’ve already spoken plenty about the past.” But the occupation is not the past, I insisted. It is very much the present. “You’re right, but what can we do? Keep sitting at home? We need to do something to change reality.”

Our conversation was cut off by the march, which suddenly grew close. We paid and hurried outside. The sight was enthralling: thousands of women — and men — dressed in all white, marching and singing songs of peace in central Jerusalem. This is, of course, not a common sight. There were so many people that passersby just gaped; the usual right-wing chants well known from other protests — generally far smaller, especially in Jerusalem – were hardly heard....

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The Bedouin village where compassion ends

The Palestinian residents of Khan al-Ahmar are facing the threat of expulsion from their homes in the West Bank. No matter how hard they tried to ingratiate themselves with their settler neighbors, nothing seemed to help. 

Sukkot is a lovely holiday. For seven days we play pretend: building ornate sukkot tabernacles in the safety of our yards or on our balconies, and imagine transience. While we say blessings, the residents of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar will be biding their time.

Is there another way to awaken the Jewish-Israeli conscience, which instructs us to remember that the sukka was an integral part of our forefathers’ journey from slavery to freedom? That this is not so different from the dilapidated shacks that house the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, from which the state is trying to expel them? Will the fate of hundreds of people, children and elderly who live in deep poverty just a short drive away from the settlement of Kfar Adumim, be of any interest to us a moment before we go back to our daily routine after the holiday comes to an end?

The story of Khan al-Ahmar is depressing in its banality. The Jahalin Bedouin community who were forced to leave their land in the Negev Desert following the 1948 war and wandered to the Mishor Adumim area of the West Bank. Decades later, that area was designated “Area C,” under full Israeli military control; the Jahalin, then, turned into an obstacle to settlement expansion. As long as Bedouin communities in the area have been under Israel’s control, the state has refrained from providing them with minimal living conditions, including connecting them to water and electricity. In fact, Israel has done everything in its power to prevent the residents from taking their fate into their own hands.

The state does not seem to be satisfied with home demolitions, fines, and confiscating equipment — now it wants to evict the entire village. To where? To an area bordering on a giant landfill near Abu Dis, an area that the state itself has called a “ticking time bomb” due to the large methane deposits that have accumulated over the years. The master plan proposed by the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, along with Israeli planning rights NGO Bimkom, was rejected by the Civil Administration.

A symbolic struggle

One must see Khan al-Ahmar in order to understand the dire poverty in...

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The Israeli army is now justifying expulsion with feminism

Netanyahu vowed this week that Israel would not uproot any more Arab communities. He seemed to forget two Palestinian villages fighting for their existence at this very moment.

On the way back from Susya, a small Palestinian hamlet in the south Hebron Hills, we pass by a major traffic jam caused by the 50th anniversary celebration of the occupation. It was at those festivities that Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed that he would not uproot any more communities — neither Jewish or Arab. Tell that to the residents of Susya, Mr. Prime Minister.

Susya is one of two Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli military control) that are struggling against expulsion. The other village is Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. The state wants to expel the villagers to a waste site in Abu Dis, located in Area B (where the Palestinian Authority handles administrative matters, and where Israel controls security).

After the state told Israel’s High Court of Justice earlier this week that it intends to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar in the coming months, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem warned that forcibly removing an indigenous community in occupied territory constitutes a war crime. I doubt whether such a declaration bothers anyone in the government, since war crimes have long ceased to be an issue for those running the country. The state says both Susya and Khan al-Ahmar were built illegally and without permits or a plan. And in both cases, it is the state itself that prevents the proper planning of both communities — in order to set the stage for massive, strategic expulsions in order to expand the surrounding settlements.

Susya was established in the south Hebron Hills since the 1830s. Until 1986, the village was a few hundred meters from its current location. It was then, however, that archeologists began digging in the area, discovering the remains of an ancient Jewish community. The Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli army that manages the day-to-day of Palestinians under military occupation, declared the village an archeological site, the area was expropriated for “the needs of the public,” and the IDF expelled the Palestinians of Susya from their homes. The villagers then moved to their privately-owned agricultural land, approximately 300 meters southeast of the original village.

Expulsion in the name of feminism

In its current location,...

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